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Biya Should Step Down If He Doesn’t Want Democracy – Barrister Tanyi Mbi 

Interviewed By Bouddih Adams

Barrister Tanyi Mbi, a human rights activist, has asserted that human rights are abused every day in Cameroon and there is no democracy. Tanyi Mbi, who granted The Post an interview, after a civil society grouping warned that police and gendarme officers would be punished, beginning July 1 if they torture anyone; admonished President Biya to step down if he does not want to allow Cameroonians true democracy. Excerpts:

The Post: Did Government have to wait until the 2011 to start punishing perpetrators of torture?

Barrister Tanyi Mbi: Actually, the issue of torture has been in existence. The civil society is just trying to actualise the process and to update people that torture is an offence punishable under the Cameroon Penal Code. It is just to remind police and gendarmes that draconian measures will be taken against them if they try to torture any individual.

As a human rights activist, how do you assess the respect of human rights in Cameroon?

Generally, the human rights situation is very poor, indeed. Human right does not only entail physical abuse. There are psychological, social, economic and other human rights abuses. You want admission and you cannot get it; you go to the hospital and you are not taken care of; prison conditions are deplorable; all are human rights issues.

Cameroonian youth used hard-earned funds to apply for the 25,000 President Biya announced, in the hope that they would be employed in May; it has been pushed to December. What is the incidence here on human rights?

That is psychological torture. It is like people are begging to be employed. The right to employment is a human right. The Labour Code says that the State must guarantee that citizens are employed. If they are making it as if it is a political campaign, then they have it all wrong. It is a human rights abuse.

Human rights are only an aspect of democratic principles; on what scale would you put democracy in Cameroon?

There is no democracy in Cameroon. What we are observing is what can be termed flamboyant democracy. If we want to talk about democracy, the structures of democracy should be put in place. President Biya should stop blindfolding the people; if he is not able to institute democracy in Cameroon, let him step down.

But elections are part of democratic practice and an election is coming in the months ahead?

We only hear election is coming, but what measures have been put in place so that everybody who wants to participate in it should be treated fairly and the election is fair and clear? You know that ELECAM has been contested. How can people who were members of political parties and resigned after they were appointed make a fair ELECAM?

Where do you put the clamour for democracy, freedoms and human rights by youth in the Arab world, vis-a-vis our own youth in Cameroon?

We are simply at the mercy of the fact that we have enough food and drinks in Cameroon. But I can assure you that what is happening in the Arab world, sooner or later, will start happening in Cameroon. In the Arab world, the people are against leaders who have ruled for long like Mr. Biya – 29 years is too long.

People are fed up because these leaders have nothing to offer. If you could not provide something for 29 years, it is not today that you are going to provide it. If Biya has the interest of this country at heart, let him step down and let some other person try.

You have just returned from a training, why this quest for training abroad?

We, Cameroonians, always like to focus on domestic issues, that is why we always get things wrong. With globalisation, if you are not trying to keep yourself abreast with what is happening in the international community, then, you are at a loss. The conference I attended was for North American lawyers and I was the only candidate from Cameroon.

I had to network with 25 countries and, there were about 60 candidates. From Africa only four candidates attended: I from Cameroon, one candidate from Nigeria, one from Uganda and one from Ethiopia. The other countries sent their candidates on Government sponsorship, but I footed my bills.

We discussed corporate practice, in the sense that it deals with international issues. We did international arbitration, trans-national arbitration, negotiation, how do deal with international clients; we cannot focus ourselves only on trespass and destruction. We should try to evolve and to compete with the international community.

We have institutions here that offer training; why sponsor people abroad?

We don’t have. Even if the institutions are there; we don’t have the qualified staff. Besides, it is part of practice that you must keep abreast with what is going on in the global world. If you don’t, then, you have cobwebs in your eyes. There are new concepts on arbitration, negotiation; international criminal procedure and so on, coming up every day that you must keep abreast with. So, training should be part and parcel of each lawyer. It is an investment. The training provided specialist skills for corporate attorneys all over the world.

I was competing with attorneys from Italy, Brazil, Mexico, Latin American countries and Asia. In Cameroon, for example, we talk about Common Law; but how many countries are practising Common Law in the world? Not up 10. It’s only Britain, Cameroon … still applying Common Law. Remember when they brought OHADA, Cameroonians protested, but, today, OHADA is the order of the day in about 14 African countries.

How does your training benefit your individual client?

If I used to charge FCFA 100,000, today it has to be FCFA 500,000. I have not only improved on my knowledge on how to treat clients, but I also know how to handle them and to keep them satisfied. Here – west of the Mungo – everything is taken to court. We should know how to arbitrate matters; the court should be the last resort.

How would you treat a poor client like the man on the street?

I can offer pro bono services to a poor client. One should also look at people that cannot afford. According to statistics, every law firm has a department for pro bono. Lawyers must learn to offer free services in their community. There is also the issue of legal aid in Cameroon, but it is not applied because of bottlenecks.

Any message for your clients, your colleagues and the rest of the society…?

To my colleagues: it is never too late to learn. A lawyer who does not accept global issues should go to the farm. To my clients: the time has passed when a lawyer would tell a client go and tell a lie in court. People should learn to negotiate, because, when you negotiate your matter, it is less expensive. It is only when the negotiations cannot settle the matter that they can resort to go to court.

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